Friday, December 31, 2010

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ten for '10: The Best of the Year

The Year-End Top Ten is rightfully revered. It's more than just a list of films that you liked: it's a reflection of who you were in a given year. What was it about 2009 that led me to Public Enemies, Fantastic Mr. Fox and (500) Days of Summer? Certainly it was pure love with the first, but what I was going through that year certainly informed my opinions on the other two.

I always think it's interesting to go back and see what one was into the year before, and why that might have been. Take last year for instance:

Public Enemies
Fantastic Mr. Fox
(500) Days of Summer
Bright Star
A Serious Man
Julie & Julia
The Princess and the Frog
Up in the Air
Easy Virtue
Jennifer's Body

I've always been into human relationships, of course, but love stories absolutely dominated last year, whether unrequited (Jennifer's Body), committed (Fantastic Mr. Fox, Bright Star, Julie & Julia), broken ((500) Days of Summer, Up in the Air, Easy Virtue) or Disney (The Princess and the Frog). I didn't realize it at the time, of course, but looking at it now, it's obvious. 

This year, I have no idea what trends, if any, appear. I don't know what they say about my state of mind in 2010. All I know is this: these are the films that touched and tickled me, appropriately and sometimes naughtily, in 2010. In alphabetical order:

Black Swan
(Number Four on 25 Most Anticipated) 
Sexy, psychotic, operatic, horrifying. Natalie Portman and Darren Aronofsky create a literal danse macabre together, and it is beautiful.

Easy A
Emma Stone is hilarious in a star-making turn as Olive Penderghast. The genuinely witty screenplay helps, of course, as does the great supporting cast. I can honestly say this was the most fun I had in a theater all year.

The Fighter
(Number Ten on 25 Most Anticipated) 
How can a movie give us such frustrating characters like Alice and Dickie and still get us to sympathize with them? How can it get career-best work from an ensemble of already strong performers? How can it keep me on the edge of my seat even when I already know the ending? Impressive.

For Colored Girls
Tyler Perry finally dials it down and makes a genuinely great film, though with a few caveats. But as I said yesterday, there's a beauty to some imperfections. Perry's film delivers on cinematography, production design, costumes and directing (!!). Oh, and of course, there's the strong ensemble of actresses, including formerly dull Thandie Newton not only turning in a good performance, but delivering one of the best of the film.

I Am Love
Poetic. Operatic. Sheer beauty.

The King's Speech
(Number Six on 25 Most Anticipated) 
Yeah, yeah, it's another movie about the royals, but it's more than that: it's a fish-out-of-water/buddy flick, with Geoffrey Rush's Australian commoner helping Colin Firth's British king overcome his crippling stammer. Inventively-shot, wittily-written, subtly-acted, The King's Speech is a genuine crowdpleaser.

Kim Hye-ja's lead performance alone is a wonder. Add Lee Byeong-woo's playful score and Bong Joon-ho's tight direction and script, and you've got a witty and suspenseful Hitchcockian thriller that surprises.

Never Let Me Go
I saw something profound and haunting. That last shot... That scene with Keira Knightley in the bedroom... Charlotte Rampling's last scene... The boat... The score...

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
(Number Eleven on 25 Most Anticipated) 
I like it more and more every time I see it, and that's going on four times now. Not just a great sense of fun, but a poignancy is there. I tear up every time those opening chords to "Ramona" play. And I'm sorry, anyone who says this is the same old Michael Cera isn't watching the movie.

The Social Network
(Number Sixteen on 25 Most Anticipated)
Seriously, who knew a movie about Facebook would be this interesting, this masterfully-made? It's the story of my generation, of friendship betrayed, love lost, the cost of the American Dream. And the main cast are all under 30. Ha! Awesome!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Semi-Finalists: Fifteen Beauties of 2010

I still stand by my calling 2010 the most mediocre and disappointing film year I've experienced, but I've always been known among friends and family as "liking every movie". While that's not true at all (clearly), I have a lot of love in my heart for all kinds of cinema, and I think my Top 25 reflects that. What's so significant about this year is, more than ever, the "Oscar" films were truly incredible, so much so that I've spent three days trying to decide what to put here and what to put on the Top Ten. Five different films have filled in that Number Eleven spot, and we could very well wind up with a Precious situation.

(Last year, Precious made it to Number 22 of my Top 25; a second viewing a couple weeks before the Oscars had me rooting for it to sweep. Since then, it's joined my private pantheon of Greatest Movies of All Time.)

I regret not having room for Letters to Juliet, Shutter Island or Rabbit Hole, but this list reflects my feelings as of this last week. In the years, months, weeks to come, it may completely change, but for now, it's an interesting time capsule. Without further ado, 25-11 of my Top 25 of the Year.

25. The American
A beautiful, meditative, quiet film. George Clooney always finds a new way to break my heart, but this movie's finale may be his most effective. Good on Anton Corbijn, who made his feature debut with the equally moving Control in 2007, for evoking a long dormant form of filmmaking.

24. 127 Hours
Cathartic and claustrophobic, devastating and uplifting. A.R. Rahman's score impressed me, but of course it was James Franco who really delivered, anchoring the film with his transformation from smug to survival.

23. The Last Exorcism
Those final images still haunt me. See it for the career-making (in a perfect world) performances by Patrick Fabian and Ashley Bell. See it for the eerie storytelling. See it for scares not induced by sudden shocks or an intrusive score. A welcome addition to the horror genre, and to my favorite sub-genre.

22. Toy Story 3
(Number Twenty-Four on 25 Most Anticipated)
Ok, so they tease you with ruminations of mortality before a deus ex machina. But it's still an impressively mature study of maturation, letting go, moving on, giving to the next generation. If that doesn't sell you on it, maybe a little Michael Keaton as Ken will.

21. Inception
(Number Fourteen on 25 Most Anticipated)
Breathtaking action sequences, certainly. Maybe few characters are fleshed-out in the script, but I rarely noticed during the runtime. Ellen Page is underrated, Tom Hardy steals most of the show, Marion Cotillard gets the most developed female role in Nolan's canon and nails it. It helps that she has a striking, haunting beauty, of course. Hans Zimmer's score was a high point of a the year.

20. How to Train Your Dragon
It just moved me in unexpected ways. Certainly, the boy and his dragon story is magical, but I see this as a film about the relationship between father and son. First and foremost. The dragon is really a MacGuffin.

19. The Karate Kid
No, no I did not expect to love this as much as I do (I know Andrew K is befuddled). What can I say, though? Jaden Smith has a promising career ahead of him. Jackie Chan won me back. James Horner still delivers like the old-school epic composers. Oooh, that finale at the tournament was suspenseful, too!

18. Burlesque
(Number One on 25 Most Anticipated)
Guilty pleasure alert! Am I saying that Burlesque is a better movie than Inception and Toy Story 3? strange as it sounds, I think Burlesque boasts some of the better-developed, most three-dimensional characters of the year. The dialogue may not clue you in to it, but any movie that recognizes that people aren't evil because they have different interests is all right by me. Cher and Tucci: that's a combo that bears repeating.

17. The Ghost Writer
(Number Twenty-Two on 25 Most Anticipated)

Pulp without irony! Refreshing! The cast wisely plays it straight, especially the strong turn by Pierce Brosnan, but writer-director Polanski, writer Robert Harris and composer Alexandre Desplat all clue you in. Of course it's over the top; it's a paperback thriller that refuses to apologize for being so awesome.

16. Piranha 3D
Great fun! Takes advantage of the 3D trend while spoofing it. Christopher Lloyd, a nude underwater ballet, and gore galore.

15. Winter's Bone
It's a casual thriller, in that the tale is suspenseful, but delivered in a non-sensational, this-is-how-it-is fashion. Jennifer Lawrence's engaging lead performance is already doing wonders for her. John Hawkes and Dale Dickey do not disappoint as her protector and antagonist, respectively, though Dickey especially is unforgettable, layering her character with surprising sympathy. Oh, yes, and the score and the cinematography and Debra Granik is a great director.

14. The Kids Are All Right
Lisa Cholodenko's study of a modern American family. There may be two moms, but they go through all the same trials and tribulations as any normal family. We've all been reading about The Bening's performance, and deservedly so, but the ensemble as a whole enchants: Ruffalo, Wasikowska, Hutcherson and especially Moore. Funny and relatable.

13. The Runaways
(Number Fifteen on 25 Most Anticipated)
Flawed, yes, but there is beauty in its imperfection. It's a dirty little punk boasting an arty sensibility and a stunning visual palette courtesy cinematographer Benoit Debie. The absence of Michael Shannon's name in this year's awards conversation is a travesty: is there a more magnetic and intimidating performance this year?

12. Blue Valentine
Love turns to resentment in this tragic yet strong debut from Derek Cianfrance, who worked with Williams and Gosling for years before filming began. The dedication shows. It hurts to watch, but I don't regret a moment of it. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are painfully real in their portrait of both an enthusiastic courtship and a crumbling marriage. Painfully. There are some sexy moments that play real (did he really...?), some bitter moments that ring too true. It's a downer emotionally, but as far as what it means for cinema, I couldn't be happier.

11. Get Low
I'm a huge fan of Robert Duvall, and if I ruled the world, he would have won his first two Oscars (Melvyn Douglas? Really?). Here, he gives what I consider his crowning achievement, career-best work that climaxes in an emotional final monologue. It's a slow burn, a comfortable mystery and character piece. Sissy Spacek broke my heart; Bill Murray gives more layers than you realize. Just perfectly-executed.

Tomorrow, my full Top Ten of '10, in alphabetical order. Because if it was ranked, there's no suspense at the Hollmann Awards.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Worst of 2010

Before we start on the good, I need to get some bile out of my mouth. Last year, I included some movies that, while undeniably terrible, I absolutely loved; for instance, the Friday the 13th remake. This year, I decided to go with the movies that I know I will never, ever see again. Not without some convincing, at least. For this reason, Legion is left off the list.

Can I say, though, that this was one of the most disappointing cinema years for me? These films were outright terrible, and the "awards" films are great, but for the most part, it was twelve months of mediocrity. You won't find Robin Hood, The Tourist or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo here, but you won't find them in my Top 25 either.

10. The Crazies
If you can't be a good movie, at least be amusingly wretched. But to be as mediocre and noncommittal as The Crazies is disappointing. I turned 21 while in that theater, but it felt like I turned 31.

9. You Again
Creepy unintentional incest, inconsistent characters, and not a laugh to be found. At least Sigourney came to work.

8. Clash of the Titans
(Number Eighteen on 25 Most Anticipated)

Ugh. The mystery that is Gemma Arterton continues. She has all the charisma of Polly Pocket.

7. Chloe
(Number Twenty-One on 25 Most Anticipated)
How can a movie featuring a sex scene between Amanda Seyfried and Julianne Moore be boring? Chloe, sadly enough, answers that question, again and again, throughout its runtime.

6. Jonah Hex
Wait...I saw this?

5. The Wolfman
Gaaaaaah I wanted to love you why did you betray me? Your VFX looked like VFX! Your cinematography was too dark to see anything! Anthony Hopkins stopped acting years ago! Gaaaah!

4. Love Ranch
I think I balanced my checkbook or something during this movie.

3. A Nightmare on Elm Street
I love horror movies. I love terrible horror movies. I've seen all the Saw movies in theaters. I love the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remakes. I hate this movie.

2. Alice in Wonderland
So much money wasted on an unimaginative and ugly wasteland. Mr. Burton, you disappoint me.

1. Splice
There are few movies out there that fill me with such frustrated, seething anger. Every time I remember it, I go blind for a moment, the world goes red, and all I see is that fucking Dren. "" Drop. Dead.


The Tourist is well-made. It is also instantly forgettable. Meh.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Jive with Five

Oy, how to put five reviews up lickety-split? I may have to go shallow on this one.


One of the best horror films in recent years. Sexy and psychotic, something Brian de Palma, Dario Argento and David Cronenberg could have cooked up together. Natalie Portman's lead performance as the fragile innocent falling into madness is mesmerizing. It's a rush to see her transformation, from a virginal ballerina to a sexually-charged performer. I often thought to myself, "Where is this going to go? What happens next? Is she really going to pick at that? ew ew ew ew AHHHHH THAT WOULD STING!" Whether it be those scratches on her back, a hangnail, or even the fluttering of arms, the body is a thing of horror and beauty in the film: we see the dancers from a wide shot and are enamored of the grace and elegance, only to see the blistered toes and broken nails beneath the slippers. Portman sells it, though, convincing in both triumph and agony...or as Diablo Cody might put it, "Every score and sore".

My favorite shot
Mila Kunis manages to play sexy, scary, friendly and devious fluidly. Barbara Hershey is surprisingly sympathetic as the pathetically smothering Momma, Vincent Cassel wounds as the ballet director, and Winona Ryder's brief screen time reminds us why we fell in love with her in the first place. As if that weren't enough: effortless VFX (especially near the end), gritty but beautiful cinematography (Matthew Libatique, I salute you), costume and production design that is not only lovely to look at, but appropriate for the characters contained within. Like I Am Love, a truly operatic piece; the Big Finale literally had me gasping for breath. Three straight minutes of my jaw hanging open, aghast at the haunting splendor of this film. Aronofsky and the trio of writers get into the lead's head: I swear I felt her madness. What starts out slow soon spins out of control. What. A. Movie.


Just as engaging, just not as insane. Mark Wahlberg gives a quiet, deliberate performance as boxer Micky Ward, a boxer ready for a comeback. Amy Adams once again proves that she's one of the best, this time playing against type as a foul-mouthed, college drop-out barmaid who falls for Ward; she even hates foreign films! Believe what you read about Christian Bale: his performance as crack-addict/former boxer Dicky Ecklund is wild, stealing the show with his wide-eyed glassy gaze, goofy smile, and unbelievable energy; it's his best performance to date. Melissa Leo absolutely nails Momma/Manager/Enabler Alice, who doesn't realize how much damage her form of love is doing to her children. It's truly frustrating, sometimes, to watch Dicky and Alice and the sisters, because they don't seem to ever get it. They can justify everything they do, and it's remarkable how charming a family of ignorant loudmouths can be. There's a scene where Adams actually calls out Dicky on his truancy and crack addiction, and I had to laugh when Leo says, "I'm sorry, I don't know who you are or why you're talking." And Adams' caustic response is just hilarious in its honesty. Truly great ensemble work from everyone. It's embedded below:

David O. Russell and the quartet of writers are wise to focus so much on the family dynamics. Ward isn't just fighting for himself, no matter how much he may insist that he's the only one fighting, "not you, not you, and not you".  No, this is about the always genuine but rarely healthy love and bond of this family. Wahlberg and Bale are real brothers, Leo is a real mother to them, etc., etc., etc. The cinematography by Hoyte von Hoytema, as well as the decision to film the boxing scenes with the same HBO cameras and crew from the original fights, emphasizes the veracity of this world, these relationships. Boxing movies have been pretty of late; The Fighter gets us back to the nitty-gritty. Every hurt and every triumph is all the more heartbreaking and satisfying because it feels so real. Serious career highs for all involved.


It begins typically enough, with a voice-over by protagonist Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) explaining the whosit and whatnot of his Viking village and the dragons that terrorize it. You've seen the kind of monologue in every animated movie before: "Let me tell you about my life...first of all...and then there's...oh, and one more thing..." Since Baruchel was already on my Nnnngh List for The Sorceror's Apprentice, I feared that I would soon grow annoyed. Tired tropes + Nnnngh = Mediocrity, at the very least.

I was so dead wrong. I laughed, I teared up, I loved. It's a story of friendship, acceptance, believing in yourself, using what talents you have to better yourself and others. The need for patriarchal approval, the worry that you're not good enough, the feeling that the girl you like will never see you as a real prospect...I connected with all of it. The flying sequences thrill even on a small screen, assisted of course by the dazzling visuals and the score by John Powell. Oh, ho, that song by Jonsi is a catchy one, too!


I was surprised by how delightful this film was. Andy Garcia plays a corrections officer with a secret: he wants to be an actor. He takes secret acting lessons at night, making his wife (Julianna Margulies) think he's having an affair. His daughter's (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) a stripper, but nobody knows it. His son (Ezra Miller) has a strange fetish and hates everyone in the house. And he's just brought home a young prisoner (Steven Strait) who, unbeknown to anyone but our hero, is his illegitimate son. And let the screwball comedy and life lessons begin.

I have to admire this film for not taking itself too seriously. Everybody's doing these great Bronx accents, with Margulies and Garcia-Lorido getting the most out of their voice work. At times, that lightness gets to be a little too much. Emily Mortimer has a self-consciously played fairy godmother role that is a wee twee. Miller's entire subplot -- entire character! -- could easily have been cut without effecting a single thing. It's a shame, because he's a good actor, but the material he's given is awful and obnoxious, and ultimately leads nowhere. Strait, I'm shocked to say, has great chemistry with everyone, though I don't know that I buy his character as someone who'd hold up a pharmacy. He's just too nice!

Really, it's all about Garcia and Margulies as the clashing spouses. They hold it together, and despite all their yelling and screaming and frustrations, you sense the intimacy between the two. It's just a nice story, well-told. Who doesn't like those?


The Coen Brothers have made a Western. Those who remember the original will sigh with relief when they realize Hailee Steinfeld can actually act! As Mattie Ross, the 14-year-old who hires Marshall Rooster Cogburn to track down the man who shot her father, Steinfeld shows pluck and seriousness. The character is as no-nonsense here as in Charles Portis' source novel, and Steinfeld' haughty portrayal does a justice Kim Darby barely touched. Thankfully, too, a real actor is playing the Texas ranger LaBoeuf -- Matt Damon plays the smug Texan perfectly, with a self-satisfied drawl and a well-clipped mustache that he simply luxuriates in. Josh Brolin's brief turn as murderous coward Tom Chaney, funnily enough, is the one that stuck with me after the film, such is the impact of his abbreviated performance.

And, of course, there's Jeff Bridges, slurring hoarsely as the oft-drunk Rooster Cogburn. He's quite good in the role, especially in his first couple of scenes. The relationship between him and Mattie is well-done: he's impressed with and protective of her, but not in the most obvious ways. In one scene, she rides her pony through a lake, swimming along side it. The look on Bridges' face then was the high point of the film for me: he clearly underestimated her, and it's impressive. The play between him, Steinfeld and Damon is well-done, though there's a long sequence where he rides drunkenly and makes a fool of himself trying to shoot corn fritters in mid-air. This is meant, I suppose, to be a character-building moment, and it also drives certain events of the plot forward, but I couldn't help feeling that it went on too long, and Bridges' performance went from character to caricature.

Seriously, though, Deakins rocks
Actually, I have to say that I admire the film more than I like it. As I said, the Coens made a western...and that's all they did. It was straightforward and impersonal, and though the novel is told in much the same way, there was still a sense of adventure. It helps that everything is written in first-person by Mattie, and I can't help but wish the Coens had taken the time to add that voice to it. Oh, sure, they do it literally, with an adult Mattie providing a prologue and epilogue, but there's very little let me confess: the original did a better job of emotionally getting you into the film. There was a lead up to the final confrontation between Rooster and gang leader Ned Pepper (played here Barry Pepper); in this version, it suddenly happens. We're at the end of the movie. There are also too many exits for Damon's character. Each disappearance and reappearance is jarring; once is effective, twice is lacking. The technicals are all there, but Steinfeld and Bridges are left to supply all the heart the script lacks. And frankly, I prefer John Wayne's more poignant Rooster Cogburn.

I liked it, I did. It's a solid B for me. I just wish I liked it more.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pretty and Dumb

When I think of TRON: Legacy, I can't help but be reminded of one or two girls I knew in high school. Beautiful girls, popular girls, girls who actually managed to maintain a high GPA so as to be in the top ten percent of our graduating class. One in particular was in all the AP and Honors classes, was popular with people, absolutely lovely to look at (and got prettier all the time), threw fun parties, the works. But despite those classes and everything, whenever she opened her mouth, she sounded like an idiot. This isn't one of those, "That's bizarre, maybe she's thinking on another level" kind of things. This is a "Does...does she understand any of what she just said?" kind of thing. Conversation confused her. She would stare at whatever room she entered like it just appeared in her path. She was kind of an idiot.

That's like TRON: Legacy. The movie sure is pretty, with the most realistic-looking VFX of the year...well, except for the mo-cap Jeff Bridges. When Bridges is supposed to be the villainous CLU, it works, since CLU is a computer program. When Bridges is supposed to be young Bridges, it looks like a CGI monster, like a Ken doll with deader eyes. Creepy. But the world of TRON: Legacy -- that is, the computer universe that our hero (Garret Hedlund) and real-life Bridges find themselves trapped in -- that's just astonishing. The monochromatic palette surely helps the illusion, but great is great, and these effects are almost Avatar-level. If it wasn't for the mo-cap horror...

Anyway, the VFX are stellar. You know what else is grand? The Daft Punk score. It's epic in it's compositions, broad and big, with violins and synth and 8-bit sounds. I actually got intense goosebumps more than once from the integration of score and VFX. It's enough of an 80s-era throwback while still remaining contemporary. Then there's beautiful Olivia Wilde, stunning as a program sympathetic to Bridges and Hedlund, who actually pulls off the hybrid with believability and craft. Garrett Hedlund is a fine leading man, Michael Sheen steals most of it with his one-scene, Bowie-esque role.

But it's just so dumb. Like, everything is just stupid. There's little consistency between everything that happens. Bridges doesn't want any of the programs to escape because they don't belong in the world, but he wants Wilde's Quorra to escape because of what she'll bring to the world? Or something? CLU wants to use the portal to escape and dominate; why didn't he do this during his coup against Flynn when the portal was initially open? In fact, if the portal opened when Hedlund entered, why didn't he do it then? Why does he need Flynn's disc to do anything? Couldn't he use the portal and destroy TRON so that he can remain in the Real World with an army?

If any of these questions were answered, I missed it. I was totally into the film until the protagonist was reunited with his father in the TRON world (hardly a spoiler, it's in the trailer). Then I zoned out for a bit, because every dialogue scene is B-O-R-I-N-G. And it doesn't matter if you zone out, because they'll repeat everything in every scene throughout the film, and also have flashbacks that repeat what you heard. None of it is interesting, or even pseudo-intelligent. There are plot and logic holes that you could steer a cruise ship through. And Bridges' performance is dull, mechanical, unpleasant to watch. Hedlund is fine, Wilde and Sheen and Bruce Boxleitner are great, but And I'm a fan, making it all the more depressing.

If you just want some eye candy, whether it be VFX or the film's stars (Wilde is va-va-voom), you won't be disappointed. If you want an actual story, you're better off with The Fighter and Black Swan.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Loving "Love", Liking "Letters"


The week before I saw I Am Love, I wrote an essay for one of my lit classes linking the Erotic with Nature, noting the "mutual conversation" between the bees and the flowers in Their Eyes Were Watching God as the purest form of sexuality. Lo and behold, here comes I Am Love with a sex scene shot in closeups, intercut with, you guessed it, bees and bugs among the flowers, the leaves blowing in the wind, nature and sex together to create a perfect harmony, a pure eroticism. Contrast this pure outdoor tryst between Tilda Swinton and Edoardo Gabbriellini with the scenes of her at home, in her perfect dresses, everything perfectly arranged, the servants arranging the dish- and silverware carefully, all of it perfectly structured and sterile. We see Swinton and her husband together only once, in bed, barely touching, with their bed sheets still somehow perfectly smooth.

Taken altogether, this is a beautiful film about Swinton's character's liberation, yet we are never told that she needs this liberation. It's in the costumes, the Production Design, the cinematography, the performances. Vocalizing it is unnecessary. Instead, let us watch the family dynamics at play, the conflict between Traditional and Modern, the Oedipal undertones, the experience of sexual liberation for mother and daughter. And the food! Oh my God, this is Food Porn for anyone interested in such things! The prawns, the creme brulee, the Russian soup favored by Flavio Parenti's character! Everything looks so sinfully delicious, almost life-affirming! You can't blame Swinton's matriarch for having an affair with Gabbriellini's chef. So what if he's her son's friend? Passion knows no boundaries.

Look at that composition. Maid and mistress.
The attention to detail is just as evident in the characterizations by director Luca Guadagnino and his ensemble. There's Swinton's epiphany, of course, and Gabbriellini's earthy sexuality, and Parenti's naivete. But we also have the youthful independence of Alba Rohrwacher's daughter, the subtle snobbery and watchfulness of Marisa Berenson's grandmother, the bluntness and benevolence of Gabriele Ferzetti's grandfather, the loyalty and ruthlessness of Pippo Delbono's patriarch. Most especially, there's Maria Paiato's Eva, head housekeeper and the closest thing Swinton has to a friend. Like Viola Davis in Far from Heaven and Frances E. Williams in The Reckless Moment, Paiato crafts a loyal and intelligent woman who becomes a confidante, not through confession, but through observation. There is a beautiful moment where Parenti comes home in tears, but cannot find Swinton; instead, he breaks down in Paiato's arms, and the look on her face...well, I'll have more to say about Paiato later.

Everything comes to a head with a grand finale set to music by minimalist composer John Adams. Indeed, the film's entire score is made from John Adams music, but the music in the finale brings everything to an uplifting, arousing finish. Only one other film can equal I Am Love in its instrumental finale, but that's for another day. The point is, the way in which Guadagnino brings all the elements together in one final, pulse-pounding sequence only confirms what one already suspects: I Am Love is a symphony, an opera, a masterwork. No joke, no exaggeration, I've had about a month to think it over and everything. I Am Love has It.


Surprisingly well-done! Amanda Seyfried is an American vacationing in Italy with her inattentive fiance (Gael Garcia Bernal). While there, she helps an elderly Englishwoman (Vanessa Redgrave) find the love of her life from 50 years ago, much to the consternation of her uppity grandson (Christopher Egan). Redgrave is magnetic as always, still beautiful, her eyes alternately registering eagerness and uncertainty. Seyfried is fine, though she sometimes overplays the Ignored Fiancee bit, so that you just want to walk up to her and say, "Hey. You're in an Italian vineyard. Stop. Sulking." How Bernal's character misses the pouts and crossed arms probably informs why he's not right for her, though he's not a bad guy. Like Burlesque, the movie actually lets you root for one guy without hating the other! Seyfried and Egan also kind of overplay the initial frustrations with each other -- their rudeness is less Meet Cute and more Awkward Family Dinner That Everyone Tries to Avoid. Ooh, but when the sparks fly between them, it's adorable! An enjoyable little film.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Cher and Other Things

Burlesque is a movie you either get or you don't. I don't mean to imply that it's just over your head if you don't like it, rather that it's more in tune with what Maggie Smith says in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie: For those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like. Burlesque is the sort of thing I like: like Xanadu, it's a would-be disaster that instead succeeds because of its sincerity. Some may think it's silliness, especially if they only watch the first stiff and awkward fifteen minutes. Still, there's something downright magical about a movie that plays like a naughty Babes in Arms.

Christina Aguilera is a small-town girl hoping ot make it big in L.A. Cher is the owner of the Burlesque club that seems completely unfamiliar with burlesque, but which still attracts some customers. Unfortunately, the club is falling on hard times, and needs X, Y and Z or it will close! The solution: Let's put on a show! Well, I mean, a different kind of show. You know. A better one. So, we get terrific numbers from Xtina and Cher (of course!), including "You Haven't Heard the Last of Me", a moving ballad from Diane Warren. The two work fine together, by the way. Aguilera is a little wet behind the ears, but she's engaging enough. Cher is terrific; I love the awkward way she doles out wisdom, like Tess is afraid of sounding schmaltzy. Aw, and they have a makeup scene together that's touching and hilarious, because it's all mother-daughter and Xtina looks so touched when she sees her tarted-up face in the mirror. AWWW!

Better acting through chemistry
Meanwhile, Stanley Tucci walks away with the whole show. Seriously, every time I see him on screen I want him to do eight more movies with his scene partners: Meryl, Patty C, and now Cher. Does he have people Tucci up a script for him, or is the magic all him? God, he's funny. Cam Gigandet is a likable leading man, Dianna Agron has a short cameo, Kristen Bell is delightfully camp as the villainess, and Eric Dane didn't piss me off!

Actually, I have to give writer-director Steve Antin mad props for not condemning Eric Dane's character, by the way. He's a businessman who wants to buy the burlesque and make it a skyscraper, but he's not a villain. Rather, he just isn't right for our protagonists and, hey, that's okay. Those who felt that The Devil Wears Prada too easily condemned Miranda Priestly in favor of the free-loading boyfriend character can find relief in seeing a movie about art vs. capitalism that actually presents everyone has flawed but well-meaning people. Crazy!

Great songs, great dance numbers, AMAZING costumes. It's just a fun time. At the beginning of the year, this topped my Most Anticipated list. While I wouldn't call it my favorite of the year, it definitely did not disappoint (to quote a friend of mine, "stanley tucci + cher = fabulousness like the world has never known"). Besides, alongside Scott Pilgrim, it's by far the best soundtrack of the year.


There's much to enjoy in the new Harry Potter film. It manages to comfortably transition between its comedic and dramatic scenes, something that could, at times, feel awkward and bizarre in previous installments. The score by Alexandre Desplat is predictably great, striking out on his own instead of rehashing old themes and styles. David Yates and cinematographer Eduardo Serra take a cinema verite approach to the majority of the film; instead of Harry Potter and his friends going on a long, dull camping trip in search of the means to destroy dark wizard Voldemort, Harry Potter and his friends are on a road trip with a late 60s/early 70s feel, with misty landscapes and hand-held work. The VFX team must be applauded, surely, for fitting their work within this more realistic setting seamlessly. Interestingly, is how real everything seemed when it was just Harry, Hermione and Ron in the tent, and how still-effective-but-nonetheless-consciously-FILM other scenes played (this is especially true of the Malfoy Manor finale, when the realism of the first two hours gives way to Helena Bonham-Carter's enjoyably unhinged Bellatrix Lestrange).

By far the greatest decision, though, is the promotion of Emma Watson's Hermione Granger from supporting role to co-lead. From her heartbreaking first scene to her climactic encounter with Bellatrix, Hermione is right with Harry in every sequence of the film. Even better, Watson meets the challenge, giving her best performance in the series. We've seen the smart Hermione; now Watson sells us on the friend, always supportive, sometimes lost. The play between her and Daniel Radcliffe in a dancing scene is especially touching. Hell, that whole scene  is masterful: no dialogue, no Desplat, just two friends comforting each other to the music of a radio. You get their whole relationship with that scene alone. Coupled with a Christmas scene set at a cemetery, Watson has never, to me, been more effective.


Surprisingly hilarious film about a supervillain who finally defeats his nemesis. There's some jaw-droppingly photo-real animation, Will Ferrell and Tina Fey are a stitch together, and it's got a fun score from Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe. Some things don't completely work, like the Music Career gag that was in all the TV spots. That's just...not funny. Also, why does every Dreamworks Animated film end with a dance party? This time it felt shoehorned in. I winced. The mediocre sticks out because for the majority of its 90 minutes, it's a fun and, more importantly, funny movie.

You Did an All Right Job, Sweetie

Have you ever seen something that you knew was working, like a movie? The performances were fine, the movie was put-together fine, everything was well-done, but you just didn't care? That kind of happened to me yesterday with Animal Kingdom.

I finally saw it after hearing so much about Jacki Weaver's performance. And she's great, though I feel she lays it on a little thick in her "bad momma" scenes. Still, I understand the buzz around her, and for the most part, she plays the role of Janine Cody pretty well, with only her eyes expressing the ruthlessness behind her hugs and terms of endearment. Guy Pearce turns in solid work as the cop wanting to bring in Janine's criminal sons, determined but tired as he closes in on the gang. Joel Edgerton and Sullivan Stapleton were my favorites of the brothers, both believable as the quiet, level-headed one and the manic one, respectively.

Newcomer James Frecheville plays the nephew, the protagonist, a guy with a girl who watches and sometimes takes part in the gang's activities; Ben Mendelsohn plays the quietest and craziest one of the bunch. The two appear to be having a blank expression contest, but for different purposes. Frecheville's is an observer, and his blank expression helps him remain unreadable. Mendelsohn's, meanwhile, is more in line with Donald Pleasance's description of Michael Myers: "This blank, pale, emotionless face and the blackest eyes... the devil's eyes." Overall, some fine performances.

Not bad at all...
It's all well-directed, too, a slow burn. David Michod plays fair, makes three-dimensional characters, tracks everything consistently through the lens of both Frecheville's character and the family drama that's at play. Everybody gets their own moment that begs for more screentime (such as Susan Prior as the mother of Frecheville's girlfriend). There's a fascinating frame of Frecheville at the very beginning when he first calls Weaver's character. And Antony Partos' score is probably one of the best of the year. This all sounds A-grade, right?

I'd give it more of a B, though, because I just didn't connect emotionally. Maybe it was the time of day, maybe it was the abundance of slo-mo following each death (crime film, surely that's no surprise), maybe it was the slow burn of it all. But something kept me from completely latching onto the film, especially in the last fifteen minutes. The last section seemed like too much for too long, and I felt myself becoming a little irritated with Mendelsohn's calculated "I'm a psychotic!" performance. Not enough people give credit to the hamminess of underplaying, but it happens, and this is one of those. It bothered me.

Whatever the reason, I wish it wasn't so. I hear all this praise for the film, and it's certainly warranted...but I'm more "Oh, that was nice" about it, before moving on. I'd see it again, but I could probably get some laundry done during.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

This Movie...Rocks

I'm in the theater, watching 127 Hours, my mood somewhere between cautious optimism and mild skepticism. I was interested in this movie for a while, and after hearing some good things about it, there was no way I was missing it. Yet the film opens with shots of people at sports matches (?!), and proceeds to get edited the hell out of, with three images playing at once, POV shots from the bottom of a water bottle, constant cutting cutting cutting, never letting an image play for too long, focus drawn to Aron Ralston's little HD cam instead of the actor, etc., etc., etc.

Then, moment by moment, as the film progressed over its 90 minutes, I got it. It feels so strange to say that every moment in this film has a pay-off -- strange because this could have been a straightforward narrative, a test of will for the audience who have to earn that triumph of the end. But writers Simon Beaufoy and Danny Boyle (who also, of course, directed) don't play that game. They've crafted a fascinating story that is only superficially about the Will to Survive and the Triumph of the Spirit. What it's really about, for me anyway, is companionship. It's the same message of Into the Wild -- Life is better when shared with others -- but the guy actually lives to put that into practice! Hope! Triumph! Beauty!

My favorite shot. Regrets, beautifully visualized.
James Franco is Aron Ralston, and he's great. Franco's a pretty guy who comes off as kind of smug; perfect casting, then, for the initially self-centered, emotionally distant Aron. He ignores his mother and his girlfriend, preferring to do everything on his own. It's that recklessness which leads to his getting pinned by a rock in the middle of nowhere, having told nobody where he is, under-prepared for a unexpected situation. And of course, being stuck without any human contact for five days makes him appreciate all the people he ignored. At one point, I actually thought to myself, "Wow. If Franco's got a chip a shoulder, he's earned it. Look what he went through." Then I reminded myself that he was just acting, that the crew didn't pin him there, that he was given breaks and lunch and everything. But full credit to Franco's charming and anguished performance for actually selling me on the situation; full credit also to the makeup people who made him look so sick and dehydrated. Spooky work.

A.R. Rahman's score is well-done, much better than his remix work on Slumdog Millionaire. Jon Harris's editing puts us into Ralston's increasingly fractured mental state, and it's neat to see how the techniques earlier used to show us a bustling, free-wheeling life can suddenly convey entrapment and desperation. Well-executed, really. The sound design, the cinematography, even the casting -- crucial in believably populating Franco's family and social lives so that we see something worth getting out of that rock for -- everything was expertly done.

Go for it. It's actually entertaining, with welcome moments of humor and suspense. But it's also an exciting and uplifting story, well-told.

Actors Loving Actors

And the SAG film nominees are....

Films still to come, but Hot in Cleveland was nominated for Best Ensemble in a Comedy Series and Best Actress in a Comedy Series, Betty White. I love that show! Can't wait for it to come back in January!

Christian Bale, The Fighter
John Hawkes, Winter's Bone [!!!!]
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech
4/5, Hawkes in place of Murray. I'm so psyched he got nominated! Awesome!

Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
Mila Kunis, Black Swan
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
3/5, Kunis and Steinfeld. None of these have come out here yet, but I like most of them as a rule. Steinfeld and I are still strangers.

Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Robert Duvall, Get Low
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King's Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours
4/5, Bridges getting in for True Grit. Which I still can't believe, sight unseen. In my mind, True Grit won't be doing all that well with Oscar. Is this a blind spot?

Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Hilary Swank, Conviction
4/5, Swank sneaks in there. Good on Sasha Stone for that prediction. But siiiigh, Julianne....

Black Swan: Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Mila Kunis, Natalie Portman, Winona Ryder
The Fighter: Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, Jack McGee, Mark Wahlberg
The Kids Are All Right: Annette Bening, Josh Hutcherson, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska
The King's Speech: Anthony Andrews, Helena Bonham-Carter, Jennifer Ehle, Colin Firth, Michael Gambon, Derek Jacobi, Guy Pearce, Geoffrey Rush, Timothy Spall
The Social Network: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Josh Pence, Justin Timberlake (how does Rooney Mara get a Supporting Actress campaign but not an Ensemble nod?)
4/5, Black Swan instead of The Town. I guess that makes sense, with two nominations.

SAGs to Come....

Fifteen minutes until the SAG Nominations come out. Some last-minute predictions.

The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
The Social Network
The Town

Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right
Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Robert Duvall, Get Low
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King's Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours
Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter

Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham-Carter, The King's Speech
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Sissy Spacek, Get Low
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Christian Bale, The Fighter
Bill Murray, Get Low
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Song Finalists Missing Something

41 songs have made it as finalists for the Best Original Song category. The full list with reactions coming up, but first...

NO SCOTT PILGRIM AT ALL??? God, they should have put the full version of "Ramona" in the movie, that song is full of the ache of young love; beautifully-written, too. No Scott Pilgrim. Jeez. Why do they even bother?

Now, then. The potential nominees.

“Alice” from “Alice in Wonderland”
Avril Lavigne performs. No. Just no. God, no. Elfman's score, Bonham-Carter, Crispin Glover. Those are the only good things about Alice in Wonderland, and this song is no exception.
“Forever One Love” from “Black Tulip”
“Freedom Song” from “Black Tulip”
What is Black Tulip? Apparently, it's about an Afghan family and their restaurant after the fall of the Taliban. There aren't even release dates for this movie on IMDb. Strange, didn't Scott Pilgrim actually have a release date?
“Bound to You” from “Burlesque”
“Welcome to Burlesque” from “Burlesque”
“You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me” from “Burlesque”
Unless they wrote the wrong thing, "Welcome to Burlesque" is probably the most unremarkable song in Burlesque. But unremarkable for Burlesque is still AMAZING. Review soon to come, but suffice to say that I love the movie and hope one of the other two songs wins it.
“There’s a Place for Us” from “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”
“Coming Home” from “Country Strong”
“Me and Tennessee” from “Country Strong”
“Despicable Me” from “Despicable Me”
“Prettiest Girls” from “Despicable Me”
“Dear Laughing Doubters” from “Dinner for Schmucks”
I'm always surprised by what movies have original songs.
“Better Days” from “Eat Pray Love”
“If You Run” from “Going the Distance”
Was this the song playing at the concert in the end? I don't really remember it.
“Darkness before the Dawn” from “Holy Rollers”
“Sticks & Stones” from “How to Train Your Dragon”
“Le Gris” from “Idiots and Angels”
“Chanson Illusionist” from “The Illusionist”
“Never Say Never” from “The Karate Kid”
Bieber power. It's also the title of his 3D concert film. Oooooh!
“To the Sky” from “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole”
“What If” from “Letters to Juliet”
“Life during Wartime” from “Life during Wartime”
“Made in Dagenham” from “Made in Dagenham”
“Little One” from “Mother and Child”
“Be the One” from “The Next Three Days”
“If I Rise” from “127 Hours”
“When You See Forever” from “The Perfect Game”
“I Remain” from “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”
“Dream Big” from “Pure Country 2: The Gift”
“How I Love You” from “Ramona and Beezus”
“Darling I Do” from “Shrek Forever After”
“Noka Oi” from “Six Days in Paradise”
“This Is a Low” from “Tamara Drewe”
“I See the Light” from “Tangled”
“Rise” from “3 Billion and Counting”
“We Belong Together” from “Toy Story 3″
“Eclipse: All Yours” from “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse”
“Nothing” from “Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too”
“A Better Life” from “Unbeaten”
“Shine” from “Waiting for ‘Superman’”
Probably your winner. Haven't heard it, haven't seen the movie, but I'm still rooting for Burlesque. Cher!
“The Reasons Why” from “Wretches & Jabberers”
What & What? What are these movies?

Golden Globe Noms: The Day After

Well, it's been about a week since last we talked. Forgive me: graduation, thesis film premieres, moving out of my apartment; it's been busy. And tomorrow I return home for a stretch before heading to New York (but that won't be for a while).

But now the Globes have been announced, and its time to react!

A full list of the nominees can be found here.

Black Swan
The Fighter
The King's Speech
The Social Network
Well, I am truly surprised by Inception's inclusion here, since I thought HFPA would go more for 127 Hours. The others make sense, and I expect The King's Speech to take the award. As much as people like to bag on the Globes people for being starfuckers or Oscar predictors, they did give Atonement and Babel Best Drama over No Country... and The Departed, respectively.

Alice in Wonderland
The Kids Are All Right
The Tourist
My God, I've seen most of these! Thus my confusion: Red? Good movie, but Best Comedy? And Alice in Wonderland? ALICE? IN? WONDERLAND? That movie. Is awful. Burlesque and The Kids Are All Right belong, obviously, but what of Easy A, Scott Pilgrim, Morning Glory or Hot Tub Time Machine?

Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
Christopher Nolan, Inception
David O. Russell, The Fighter
That David O is sure getting some traction, eh? Five-for-five match with the drama category, since comedy films are ineligible for this award. They must be, right?

Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King's Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours
Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine
Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter
Yay, Gosling made it! A raw and powerful performance that I must get to writing about. Anyhow, I'm surprised that Robert Duvall didn't get in for Get Low. Glad people are digging Eisenberg just as much as I am.

Johnny Depp, Alice in Wonderland
Johnny Depp, The Tourist
Paul Giamatti, Barney's Version
Jake Gyllenhaal, Love and Other Drugs
Kevin Spacey, Casino Jack
This is all bizarre to me. Gyllenhaal and Giamatti, sure, but Depp's Mad Hatter "performance"? I didn't know Casino Jack was being campaigned as a musical/comedy. Hell, I don't even know if it's actually out anywhere.

Halle Berry, Frankie & Alice
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
Yay, Williams made it! I find Frankie & Alice and Casino Jack to be twin concerns: they're out? People saw them? Even if they aren't out...people saw them?

Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Anne Hathaway, Love and Other Drugs
Angelina Jolie, The Tourist
Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right
Emma Stone, Easy A
I'm disappointed to not see Cher here (or in supporting actress, wherever you consider her). But what is that compared to the joy of Emma Stone's inclusion? Now, if this were repeated at the SAG or AMPAS nominations, I'd be a happy man indeed...

Christian Bale, The Fighter
Michael Douglas, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech
I'm seeing The Fighter this weekend; I hope it measures up to the buzz. Garfield and Douglas are worthy, Renner's one of the best things about The Town (which I admired and enjoyed, but man is that getting a lot of affection), and Rush...I haven't seen yet,

Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham-Carter, The King's Speech
Mila Kunis, Black Swan
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
Only category where I've seen exactly zero of these. I have no real opinion.

Simon Beaufoy & Danny Boyle, 127 Hours
Stuart Blumberg & Lisa Cholodenko, The Kids Are All Right
Christopher Nolan, Inception
David Seidler, The King's Speech
Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network

Alexandre Desplat, The King's Speech
Danny Elfman, Alice in Wonderland
A.R. Rahman, 127 Hours
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, The Social Network
Hans Zimmer, Inception
See, this is the only category where Alice in Wonderland belongs; I really dug Elfman's score. I can't wait to see The King's Speech, either, if just for Desplat's score. My Hollmann Awards have nominated him five times, thrice last year.

Bound to You, Burlesque
Coming Home, Country Strong
I See the Light, Tangled
There's a Place for Us, Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
You Haven't Seen the Last of Me, Burlesque
"You Haven't Seen the Last of Me" needs to win. Period. Or "Bound to You". I haven't heard the other songs, but DAMN Burlesque delivers.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Casting Coup Tuesdays: The Man Who Came to Dinner


Today's Holiday Casting Coup is one that I've always wanted to do.
Years and years ago -- I was probably still in elementary school -- I fell in love with The Man Who Came to Dinner. It's the story of popular radio personality Sheridan Whiteside, who arrives in a small town for a dinner with one of its bigwigs; I think it's a publicity thing or something. Anyway, on his way out, he winds up breaking his leg when he slips on some ice, forcing him to remain with his hosts. Only then do they realize that Whiteside is a temperamental, tyrannical, childish man prone to lobbing insults at anyone and everyone in his path.

Written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, the original play was based on their experiences with their friend, radio personality, essayist, critic and founding member of the Algonquin Vicious Circle Alexander Woolcott. The legend tells us that Woolcott stayed at Hart's for a weekend and absolutely terrorized everyone, servants and family alike, even writing a note upon his leaving to assure Hart that it was "one of the most unpleasant times I have ever spent". Hart told Kaufman about the experience, saying, "Can you imagine if he broke his leg and had to stay?" Thus the story was born.

I was exposed to it, like many of you I imagine, through the magic of film. The 1942 film starred original Broadway star Monty Woolley as Whiteside, in one of those performances that audiences adore and critics appreciate, but divides the actual Hollywood people: Orson Welles (who later did a made-for-TV version) and Nathan Lane (star of the Broadway revival) thought Woolley's performance to be awful and misjudged, respectively. Actors. I disagree, but I can understand Lane's displeasure with the performance, thinking Woolley played it too mean. I get that. I love it, but I get it. Bette Davis, who played Whiteside's secretary marvelously, thought the direction was unimaginative, and was forever disappointed that first choice John Barrymore was too drunk to play the role.

Well whatever. Woolley is fantastic, and The Man Who Came to Dinner is a Christmas tradition in my house. My mother and I try to catch it whenever it's on, and TCM obliges annually. It's a true Christmas movie, taking place from the week before Christmas on through the 25th of December. Yes, friends, there's a Christmas Day finale, as well as a Christmas Eve radio broadcast featuring a boys' choir and several live penguins. The exchange of gifts plays a crucial role in the narrative, especially where it concerns Lorraine Sheldon and Aunt Harriet; if you don't know what I'm talking about, see the movie!

So, why recast something if I'm already a great fan of the original? Because (a) I would like to see a less mean-spirited Whiteside, and (b) that's what I do! Let me know what you think:

Who Are They: The butler and cook, respectively, of the Stanley Home. Long employed by the snobbish and tyrannical Mr. Stanley, they not only welcome the relief of Mr. Whiteside's company -- they positively dote on him.

My Choices:
Zeljko Ivanek (Hannibal, In Bruges) and Cleo King (Dogville, The Hangover)
I like them is all. Cleo King is funny, and boy it would be a relief to see Ivanek at least smile. Without irony, I mean.

Who is She: Mr. Stanley's sister, a batty lady with a secret past who adores Mr. Whiteside.

My Choice:
Ellen Greene (Little Shop of Horrors, Leon)
Greene can play crazy without going full Crawford. She also looks high-class, as Aunt Harriet should.

Who is She: Mr. Whiteside's nurse, a patient woman who finds it difficult to maintain her poise amongst her charge's verbal abuse.

My Choice:
Kristen Schaal (Toy Story 3, Going the Distance)
Funny without being distracting, though she can deliver when it's her time to shine, which works for Preen's eleventh-hour speech.

Who is He: Local physician who wants Mr. Whiteside to help him work on his memoirs of being a country doctor.

My Choice: Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy (Foul Play)
Chevy Chase (Caddyshack, Christmas Vacation)
His recent turn on "Community" only reminds me that he's still got it, and works well as a member of an ensemble.

Who Are They: Hosts for the dinner Mr. Whiteside came to. It is their home where he breaks his leg, and it is their home where he is forced to spend his convalescence. Meek Mrs. Stanley does her best to keep everything pleasant, but Mr. Stanley is a bit cantankerous, resenting Mr. Whiteside's manners and his intrusion into their lives.

My Choices: He's an Academy Award Winner/BAFTA Award/Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Adaptation), Indie Spirit Nominee for Best Male Lead (Lone Star) and SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (American Beauty).
She's an Academy Award/Golden Globe/Indie Spirit/SAG Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Pieces of April) and SAG Award Nominee for Best Actress (The Station Agent) and Best Ensemble (The Green Mile, The Station Agent, Good Night and Good Luck)
Chris Cooper and Patricia Clarkson (Married Life)
I love them. We know she can be harried, he can be domineering, and they can both be funny while doing it.

Who is He: A British actor/writer/songwriter (based on Noel Coward). A good friend to Maggie and Whiteside, especially Maggie; he tries to stop Lorraine, an old enemy, from getting her hooks into Bert Jefferson.

My Choice: BAFTA Award Winner/Academy Award/Golden Globe/SAG Award/Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Actor (A Single Man), SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (Shakespeare in Love), Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Easy Virtue)
Colin Firth (Bridget Jones's Diary, Then She Found Me)
Funny. British. And a star, which actor characters should be. Do the math.

Who is He: A friend of Whiteside's, crazy, ready with a joke, direct with women. Based on Harpo Marx, Banjo is a professional funnyman who also tries to stop Lorraine.

My Choice: Golden Globe/SAG Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Quiz Show), Indie Spirit Nominee for Best Actor (Box of Moonlight), Best Supporting Actor (Five Corners) and Best Director (Mac)
John Turturro (Do the Right Thing, Transformers)
Great actor who can do zany comedy quite well: look at O Brother, Where Art Thou, or even at his somewhat comic role in Quiz Show. He could do that Harpo leer, too!

Who is He: Local reporter who Whiteside actually admires, since Bert's quick-witted and charming -- he's also an aspiring playwright. Bert takes a shine to Maggie, and she to him, sparking a romance that disturbs Whiteside. What will he do without Maggie's service? Sweet and funny, his good looks come straight from central casting.

My Choice:
John Krasinski (Smiley Face, Away We Go)
Boyish and handsome, straight from central casting. Also possesses fine comic timing and wit. Also, I think we can imagine two women fighting over him. Man, what an under-appreciated talent.

Who is She: A pretentious actress with designs on a British lord. Shrill and irritating, she looks down on all those around her, except for Whiteside. Maggie hates her, especially when she starts to get her hooks into Bert Jefferson. A ruthless lush with sluttish tendencies.

My Choice: Academy Award/Golden Globe/SAG Award Winner/BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actress [in a Musical/Comedy] (Shakespeare in Love), Indie Spirit Nominee for Best Actress (Two Lovers), SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (Shakespeare in Love)
Gwyneth Paltrow (View from the Top, Proof)
Her recent stint on "Glee" reminded us just how hilarious she can be, and she could send up the perception of herself as a pretentious, holier-than-thou star. She seems like a good sport about those things. Lorraine is a high-class looker, too, and Paltrow, like her mother, just oozes with class.

Who is She: Whiteside's secretary, the only person who can successfully challenge him. He positively depends on Maggie, the woman whose whole life revolves around keeping his schedule in order and reading his thoughts. Maggie is tired, though, and when she finally sees happiness int he form of Bert Jefferson, she leaps for it.

My Choice: Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Irreconcilable Differences)
Drew Barrymore (TV's Grey Gardens, Going the Distance)
She's already ravishing in 1940s attire. An accomplished comedienne who has played these business-y types before (Never Been Kissed, Fever Pitch), Drew may not seem like the most obvious choice for a Bette Davis sub-in, but she's definitely the best for this role. Warm, funny, smart; she's got all the tricks she needs to play Maggie Cutler.

Who is He: The man who came to dinner, a celebrated writer/essayist with friends on every continent, a friend of the president as well as convicted felons. He encourages joy and freedom in the servants and children, but is also a tyrannical man. He is not a mean person, but viciousness just comes naturally to him. Utterly dependent on Maggie, he tries to prevent her from leaving by inviting Lorraine over to seduce Bert. The man is brilliant, caustic, and funny...and one of my personal heroes. Based on Alexander Woolcott.

My Choice: Academy Award/SAG Award Nominee/BAFTA Award/Golden Globe/Indie Spirit Winner for Best Actor [in a Musical/Comedy] (Lost in Translation), Indie Spirit Winner for Best Supporting Actor (Rushmore)
Bill Murray (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Get Low)
I feel like Murray's career has been a series of lovable cynics, men who aren't mean-spirited but naturally vicious. It's a difficult balance, but Murray's built his whole career out of it. He's funny and fantastic, and always generous to his co-stars. I don't know how much truth is in those reports of conflict on the Charlie's Angels set, but Murray and Barrymore are pros. He'd own this role, and he looks more like Woolcott than Monty Woolley.

Any ideas of your own? Got your own dream Whiteside in your head? Did I miss the mark with Lorraine (of course not!)? Are you a fan of The Man Who Came to Dinner? Let me know!